Find your next favorite audiobook

Become a member today and listen free for 30 days
Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World

Written by Dan Koeppel

Narrated by Paul Woodson


Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World

Written by Dan Koeppel

Narrated by Paul Woodson

ratings:
4/5 (9 ratings)
Length:
7 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jul 12, 2016
ISBN:
9781515979128
Format:
Audiobook

Description

To most people, a banana is a banana: a simple yellow fruit. Americans eat more bananas than apples and oranges combined. In others parts of the world, bananas are what keep millions of people alive. But for all its ubiquity, the banana is surprisingly mysterious; nobody knows how bananas evolved or exactly where they originated. Rich cultural lore surrounds the fruit: in ancient translations of the Bible, the "apple" consumed by Eve is actually a banana.



But the biggest mystery about the banana today is whether it will survive. A seedless fruit with a unique reproductive system, every banana is a genetic duplicate of the next, and therefore susceptible to the same blights. Today's yellow banana, the Cavendish, is increasingly threatened by such a blight, and there's no cure in sight.



Banana combines a pop-science journey around the globe, a fascinating tale of an iconic American business enterprise, and a look into the alternately tragic and hilarious banana subculture (one does exist)-ultimately taking us to the high-tech labs where new bananas are literally being built in test tubes, in a race to save the world's most beloved fruit.
Publisher:
Released:
Jul 12, 2016
ISBN:
9781515979128
Format:
Audiobook

About the author

Dan Koeppel is a well-known outdoors, nature, and adventure writer who has written for the New York Times Magazine, Outside, Audubon, Popular Science, and National Geographic Adventure, where he is a contributing editor. Koeppel has also appeared on CNN and Good Morning America, and is a former commentator for Public Radio International's Marketplace.


Related to Banana

Related Audiobooks

Related Articles


Reviews

What people think about Banana

4.1
9 ratings / 13 Reviews
What did you think?
Rating: 0 out of 5 stars

Reader reviews

  • (3/5)
    I walked into the front doors of my local library, and there was this book. It was one of the featured books on some library summer theme. I couldn't resist picking it up.

    I had completed my doctoral thesis on Guatemala, a country considered to be one of the Central American Banana Republics, and was well aware of United Fruit's horrendous involvement, with U.S. government complicity and support, in Guatemala's insurrection, war, genocide, and corruption. United Fruit is now Chiquita and, for the most part, it is a vastly more ethical conglomerate than it was before. Still, it's known underhandedness in establishing relationships with brutal rebels and dictators continued into the late 1990s. (I remain skeptical that the underhandedness has abated.) Building from Bitter fruit: The story of the American coup in Guatemala (Schlesinger, Kinder, & Coatsworth, 2005), Banana more greatly details how American preference for the popular, cheap fruit is responsible for lots of poverty and death that Americans easily dismiss for the convenience of having the fruit in our markets. It is not lost on me that the fruit is now a staple in convenience stores selling for around $.78 per banana (!!) when a whole pound of bananas costs about as much. I can guarantee 7-11 does not share that huge profit margin with the Central American growers. As Koeppel concludes, unless we can tear ourselves away from convenience in support of locally grown and seasonal produce, Banana Republics will continue to exist.

    I also had a less moral, more personal reason for picking up the book. My Grandson adores the fruit. He is a very picky eater though he will eat almost any fruit you put in front of him. Bananas are his favorite fruit and, at only 1.5 years old, will easily eat three bananas for breakfast unless we intervene to fight an egg or cereal into his mouth. Bananas were actually a prominent theme of our recent Hawaiian vacation. Our family visited the Dole plantation and pointed out the banana trees much to his delight. At another plantation we ate a delicious banana-apple variety that he found absolutely scrumptious. We even tried to buy a bunch still on the stalk so Grandson could pick them himself (we never located one). Finding Banana filled in the gaps between plantation and state-side supermarket. It was interesting for me to learn how bananas are grown and how fighting plant infections are extremely difficult. I am now my Grandson's personal banana expert.

    Don't expect a great, personal revelation or resolution about the apparent conflict between Banana Republics and my Grandson's tummy. I don't have one. I am certain my Grandson would be fine enjoying local produce if bananas disappeared from our groceries. But, it is hard not to buy them when he reaches for them from his perch in the shopping cart. At the moment, I hope as consumers we can insist our businesses act more morally and ethically even while I understand with that hope I am slipping on a proverbial banana peel. With that hope I am essentially passing the buck directly into the pockets of Chiquita and Dole.
  • (4/5)
    An interesting book, with an odd conclusion. A lot of info about bananas, both the growing of them and the selling of them, and how the business of selling bananas has affected events on the political and physical levels. The diseases of bananas have reshaped the politics of much of Latin America. The author does seem to be fascinated by weird deaths - suicide and murder are lovingly described, in extreme detail in some cases, and referred to over and over. The aspect that he deals with most, though, is that commercial bananas are basically a monoculture, and as such are very vulnerable to various diseases. The obvious solution is to breed different bananas, that are resistant to the diseases that are devastating the current variety (there's really only one, at least in the US and most of Europe). But bananas are difficult to breed, because they're basically sterile - seedless. So he concludes that the actual solution is not to _breed_ a better banana, but to _create_ one - using direct genetic manipulation, and genes from other organisms. So the last couple chapters are mostly about how people are afraid of GMO crops and why they shouldn't be because bananas are so important (not so much the commercial ones, but the many varieties that are the basic food for a lot of people who don't have much other food) and besides they're sterile and besides... He gets a bit ranty, in those last chapters. I learned a lot about bananas, and more about US (companies, and government) interference in other countries because of bananas. It was interesting, though he didn't quite convince me (for one thing, bananas don't make seeds, but (according to what he said earlier) they do make pollen - so yes, GMO bananas could cross out to other varieties. One lie I caught makes me wonder what I didn't catch...). Still, very interesting, and I learned a lot. I wish I could taste a Gros Michel...
  • (4/5)
    Everything you could ever want to know about the banana. This was a fabulous book. Unbelievable insights to how the bright yellow fruit wound up on America' breakfast table, and the possible dim future it faces.
  • (4/5)
    I picked this book because I wanted to know more about the role the banana-companies played in the political history of Central America. But apart from learning more about this topic, I also learned many unexpected facts about the history of the banana, the way it has spread over the world, about its biology, about plant-diseases and their "cures". This may sound boring, but the book is written in a very accessible style and actually very interesting. Ever since I read this book I won't pick up a banana in my supermarket without a great amount of wonder. About how mysterious it actually is: a fruit without seeds. And more than that: how such a delicate tropical fruit ended up here at all.
  • (3/5)
    This is yet another entry in the single-subject world of non-fiction. The narrowness of focus in books such as Salt and Cod and The Book on the Bookshelf and The Pencil and Longitude seems to be an increasingly preevalent trend in publishing. I am all for it on one level, since I like delving into the abstruse and wallowing in details that leave most people I know colder than a penguin's butt in the middle of the Antarctic winter; but on another level, I want to stop these publishers before they bore again with books inadequately edited and organized.There are three pieces to the banana...the history of humanity's first cultivated plant (modern evidence from New Guinea shows human cultivation from 9000 years ago was of bananas, but for their corms not the fingers we eat today); the politics of the modern cultivation of the banana (the term "banana republic", which I have used without thinking for 30+ years, has a very literal beginning and a scarily modern ring); and the future of humankind's most basic and widely distributed food crop (essential to survival in several parts of the world, the banana is also under threat from several pests that defy modern chemistry to abate, still less conquer, and squeamish food-o-phobes in wealthy countries oppose all modern genetic engineering that could save the survival crop of many parts of the world). These three strands are awkwardly interwoven, with no obvious guiding editorial hand to make sense of their interrelation. It's a shame, too, because this is a huge, important topic, and the author's not inconsiderable talents are well-used in bringing the facts to light. The loss of our American favorite banana, the Cavendish, from grocery shelves will be an inconvenience at most; the fact that two major American corporations are, double-handedly (is that a word?), responsible for the spread of the blights that threaten the world crop with the complicity of the American government, should mean that we as a country are liable to find solutions to the pressing problems of food security in the places we've so screwed over. Free. But that won't happen, you can bet on that.Back to the book...too much narrative drive is lost in the author's back-and-forth cross-cutting of the basic story. I wish someone had said, "Yo Dan...first third of the book is the banana as a plant; second third is the politics of the banana; last is the science of the plant." I wonder if that was what they tried, and the interconnections of all the information prevented its success? I somehow don't think so.It's a good-enough book on an important topic that SHOULD cause each person who reads it some discomfort at our societal callousness and myopia. I recommend it to those most likely to be irritated by progressive politics and social liberalism. Isolationists particularly encouraged to apply!
  • (3/5)
    The book is well researched and well written. It was a little long for me, but I prefer fiction to non-fiction. I read the book because I'd read a good review of it.
  • (4/5)
    More of a page turner than I ever imagined it could be, this book keeps you guessing about the fate of the beloved fruit. It is well researched, and the history of the industry that spawned America's favorite fruit is full of adventure, optimism (often misguided), and a healthy does of American corporate greed and ingenuity.It's a quick read, and leaves you wishing your friends would pick it up too, so they don't look at you crossly for wanting to discuss the ravages of Panama disease or black sigatoka.
  • (4/5)
    A quick read at 241 pages - finished it in one day, lot of white space, pictures and easy magazine-style grammar. Standard non-fiction journalistic narrative, there is no main character (other than Koeppel), the mystery driving the "plot" is the current plight of the Banana to disease and the history of how it came about. Along the way we learn there are 100s (1000s ?) of varieties of banana's, of which most Americans have only ever tried or seen one, the ubiquitous Cavendish. Some interesting bios. Light read.
  • (4/5)
    Did you know that more bananas are eaten world-wide than apples and oranges combined? I do now, thanks to this interesting discussion of bananas -- their biologic, political and commercial history. Dan Koeppel has researched his subject well, and written an accessible and never boring book. Bananas are actually sterile berries; each is a genetic clone and therefore vulnerable to disease. Panama disease is threatening the fruit now, and because it is a food staple in much of the world, this has much larger ramifications than what to slice over our cereal every morning.I really recommend this fascinating look at something we very much take for granted.
  • (4/5)
    Like the companies that spearheaded its worldwide distribution, the banana has a complicated history. Inherently sterile, it's all but dependent upon humans for production; at the same time, it's such a completely ubiquitous staple for so many people that its removal almost guarantees disaster. Koeppel's brisk timeline from the Garden of Eden to today's brink of extinction slogs a bit into political storytelling at times, but the tales of the lengths corporations will go to secure the immediate future of their bread and butter (or bananas and Corn Flakes, in this case) is like reading an expose on the Iraq war; eye-opening, but really not anything you didn't already suspect.
  • (3/5)
    it reads like a magazine article. and i mean that in a good way and a bad way. it's good because it's simple, entertaining and quick. straight to the point and informative. it sure packs a lot of information. what i don't like is that it's really meant for the general public so it seems to have the literary tropes of standard journalist storytelling. all to evident. but if you are not paying attention to that it's an easy interesting read. you'll learn a lot about banana diseases and the evil fingers of banana companies in latin america particularly and in the rest of the world. one interesting debate goes around genetically modified foods. it appears it's not that bad on bananas because the plants are sterile; they depend on human intervention to reproduce, there is no pollen or seeds, so issues around GMOed plants hybridizing other plants are not there.
  • (4/5)
    I loved looking at history through banana-colored lenses. Dan Koeppel did a really nice work here. He did a lot of research, went around the world to interview experts, and managed to write a book that focuses on the history and science of the banana. The book kept my interest quite high from beginning to end. The structure / organization is not linear at all, it would be best visualized with a firework explosion, but in a sense it works even better this way: it's like sitting down in a pub with one of the top experts on bananas, getting him completely drunk, and listening to him rant away. The result is a "narrative" that jumps around, gets distracted, goes back, has sudden moments of humor and unexpectedly moving paragraphs, but it all kind of fits together nicely. I really liked it that way. Despite the large amount of facts and trivia, the book is a light read.

    The author tried to infuse this work with an overarching drama, which is "a banana blight that is tearing through banana crops worldwide". This is a fact, however there seem to be some solutions in place, and at least several alternatives. In any case, some chapters end with sentences like "this is why the banana you eat today might be the last of its kind you eat. Ever!". Hilarious! But please, go on! Bring us another one of whatever this guy is drinking!!

    Koeppel spent many chapters on the history of United Fruit, the modern Chiquita. I knew it was a history of violent colonialism, but I didn't know to what extent. The history of the "banana republics" of Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, etc. is fascinating, dark and disturbing. Guatemala in particular, with the CIA-orchestrated conspiracy / coup that was very much related to United Fruit and bananas.

    One minor flaw: the focus seems to be almost entirely on American bananas and their history, only a little bit on South-East Asia, and almost nothing on Africa. The book would have been more complete if it expanded a bit more on Africa and what the fruit meant for African history, too.

    In the end, the author recommends us to buy fair trade bananas, to help plantation workers, and he gives us a bit more background, without pushing that agenda too much.
  • (5/5)
    I don’t usually like bananas, but after reading Koeppel’s lyrical description of what one writer called “an elongated yellow fruit” I had to rush right out to Publix and buy a bunch. Then I ate them, one by one, as I devoured the rest of this fascinating little book. I learned that bananas “are the world’s largest fruit crop, and the fourth-largest product grown overall, after wheat, rice, and corn” (xiii). But more than that, I learned how the most popular banana in the world, the one I sat slowly savoring, the Cavendish, is in real danger of extinction; partly because most cultivated bananas are genetic clones of one another. I learned that bananas, not rice, are the food staple that keeps a large part of the world alive, and that frantic efforts have been underway for a while to breed a hardier and still appetizing banana – one that is resistant to a rapidly spreading and devastating blight. Koeppel’s clear prose lays out the story of the banana, from its possible spread from Asia to Africa, to the rewriting of the geopolitical map of Latin America by United States’ fruit conglomerates. This well-written work should be a welcome companion to other books on vital world food resources, such as Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Highly recommended.